Are you committing these sins in your scientific writing? Time to repent.

  1. Minimize jargon. If you must use it, do not assume familiarity.  Provide a definition.  A well-written definition will not insult knowledgeable readers.  It will reassure them you are also an expert.
  1. Use the simpler word. Replace utilize with use and within to in.
  1. Define abbreviations early. Start with the first mention and persist.
  1. Weed aggressively. If the word does not contribute to the meaning of the sentence it is not necessary.  A, the, and that are often superfluous. The construct “there are…” is rarely justified.  When summarizing research results eliminate “studies report…” or  “they found…” which are implied.
  1. Reduce repetition. Use word-processing search features to find recurring use of your favorite words or phrases.
  1. Do not editorialize. Avoid unfortunately, only, surprisingly, nonetheless and similar. The facts must speak for themselves.
  1. Keep the subject first. Burying the subject beneath introductory clauses frustrates the reader.
  1. Eliminate passive constructs. An example: “information will be collected.” Active voice is more convincing: “we will collect….”
  1. Be positive. “Patient comfort” is less contorted than “lack of discomfort.”
  1. Unpack long sentences and paragraphs. More short sentences are better than one that is overstuffed. If a paragraph covers more than one double spaced page it likely contains more than one idea.

 

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7 Comments

Yes! Nominating #7 as having highest irritation value. Can be cured by any of the great writing books by George Gopen: http://georgegopen.com/publications/

#8 will be taken to heart

^Rabbit. Not as convincing as possible. But I am sure “you will”!

Re: #10 I had my freshman composition students read their papers out loud as part of the revision process. Not only does it highlight mistakes your eyes might glance over, but if you were gasping for breath at the end of a sentence, you probably needed a period in there.

Works for full professors reading their grants aloud too. Good practice for all of us.

“search on ” (#5) and “read out loud” (comment) – I’m making them part of my practice from now on! Remembering, in spite of everything that I’d like to include, and forgoing the opportunity to do just that no matter how important the nuances might be, would greatly improve my e-mails! (#7) Thanks!

These are ALL so right. Agree strongly with the reading outloud suggestion. If you can read your own words outloud seamlessly, then you are probably doing most of the rest of these.
And, strongly endorse the “editorializing” warning. Heed it. Editorializing–AKA “speculating” or “over-interpreting”–hands a reviewer something to complain about. Don’t do that. Let them come up with their own complaints. 

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